The New Orleans Saints have clinched home-field advantage
throughout the NFC playoffs, but coach Sean Payton wants his team
to treat its regular-season finale like there’s more on the
Before heading into the postseason, Payton’s team will try to
avoid a third straight loss when it visits the resurgent Carolina
Panthers on Sunday.
When it jumped to a 17-0 lead against visiting Tampa Bay last
Sunday, New Orleans (13-2) seemed to have gotten over the season’s
first defeat, 24-17 to Dallas on Dec. 19.
The Saints, however, failed to score after halftime and allowed
the lowly Buccaneers to tie the game with a pair of fourth-quarter
touchdowns. New Orleans’ Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard field
goal attempt with five seconds left in regulation and the Bucs went
on to hand the Saints their second consecutive home loss, 20-17 in
“It’s hard to explain,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We started
off fast, then after that there was a big lull.”
Despite the loss, the Saints earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed for the
first time in team history with Minnesota’s overtime loss at
Chicago on Monday night.
Because of his team’s performances the past two weeks, Payton
said his players should view this week’s matchup as “the last game
to get in or out of the playoffs.”
“It’s important for us to play well this week,” he said. “We
have to find the corrections and … view it as an opportunity for
us to get things corrected before it becomes a more important
First on that list of corrections is solving an inexplicable
scoring lull. New Orleans averaged 35.8 points during its
team-record 13 straight victories but has had a season-low 17
points in each of the last two weeks.
The Saints have been held under 400 total yards in three
consecutive games. That happened once in the previous eight
“What’s most important is for all of us to closely look at some
things that we have to get back to doing that we’ve done earlier in
the year or in any of our wins,” Payton said.
Brees has two touchdown passes and one interception over the
last two games following a four-game stretch in which he had 13 TDs
and one INT.
The Saints defense is allowing 359.8 yards per game to rank 24th
in the league and has given up 439 each of the past two weeks,
including a combined 321 rushing yards.
That doesn’t bode well against the NFL’s third-best rushing team
(154.7 ypg). The Panthers (7-8) got a franchise-record performance
from Jonathan Stewart last week.
With DeAngelo Williams nursing an injured left ankle, Stewart
ran for 206 yards and a touchdown as Carolina produced another easy
victory, 41-9 over the host New York Giants. Stewart and Williams,
who may return Sunday, are the fifth pair of teammates in NFL
history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Matt Moore threw for three touchdown passes for the second
straight game. He’s had seven TDs and one interception since taking
over for an injured Jake Delhomme earlier this month, leading the
team to three wins in four starts.
“He’s got more comfortable managing the game,” coach John Fox
said. “I think there are certain things he’s a little more
comfortable doing that we’ve had to tweak a little bit. But I think
he’s gotten better each week and I think he’ll continue that.”
Last week’s performance combined with a 26-7 home win over
Minnesota on Dec. 20 might have saved Fox’s job. Trying to avoid a
fourth 7-9 finish in eight seasons running the Panthers, Fox
wouldn’t say what his future holds despite reports that owner Jerry
Richardson would allow him to return next season.
A season-high third straight victory and the seventh in nine
tries against the Saints might help Fox’s job security, but
Carolina needs a better second-half performance than the one it had
in a 30-20 loss at New Orleans on Nov. 8.
Williams gave Carolina a 14-0 lead with a pair of TD runs, but
the Saints rallied for 24 points over the final 29:04, including
Anthony Hargrove’s 1-yard fumble return with two minutes
While Williams rushed for 149 yards in that loss, Stewart was
limited to 24 on 13 carries, and Brees passed for 330 yards.
The Saints haven’t dropped three in a row since a four-game
losing streak to begin the 2007 season. They are looking to finish
8-0 on the road for the first time in franchise history.